Abstract

On 31 January 1986, at 11:46 EST, an earthquake of mb = 5.0 occurred about 40 km east of Cleveland, Ohio, and about 17 km south of the Perry Nuclear Power Plant. The earthquake was felt over a broad area, including 11 states, the District of Columbia, and parts of Ontario, Canada, caused intensity VI-VII at distances of 15 km, and generated relatively high accelerations (0.18 g) of short duration at the Perry plant. Thirteen aftershocks were detected as of 15 April, with six occurring within the first 8 days. Two of the aftershocks were felt. Magnitudes for the aftershocks ranged from about 0.5 to 2.5. Focal depths for all of the earthquakes ranged from 2 to 6 km. Except for one small earthquake, all of the aftershocks occurred in a very tight cluster with a north-northeast orientation. Focal mechanisms of the aftershocks exhibit predominantly oblique right-slip motion on nearly vertical nodal planes oriented N15° to 45°E, with a nearly horizontal P axis north of east.

Three deep waste disposal wells are currently operating within 15 km of the epicentral region and have been responsible for the injection of nearly 1.2 billion liters of fluid at pressures reaching 112 bars above ambient at a nominal depth of 1.8 km. Estimates of stress inferred from commercial hydrofracturing measurements suggest that the state of stress in northeastern Ohio is close to the theoretical threshold for failure along favorably oriented, preexisting fractures. This implies that effective stress conditions near the bottom of the two most active wells may be at or near the critical level for incipient failure. Two and, possibly, three earthquakes have occurred within less than 5 km from the wells since 1983. The relative distance to the main shock epicenter and its aftershocks (about 12 km), the lack of large numbers of small earthquakes typical of many induced sequences, the history of small to moderate earthquakes in the region prior to the initiation of injection, and the attenuation of the pressure field with distance from the injection wells, however, all argue for a “natural” origin for the 1986 earthquakes. In contrast, the proximity to failure conditions at the bottom of the well and the probable spatial association of at least one earthquake suggest that triggering by well activities cannot be precluded.

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